The ruling on sulphur represents significant progress compared with the IMO’s environmental record, but still leaves shipping lagging behind other means of transport in its ecological footprint.
The current global limit for sulphur in marine fuels is 4.5%, well above the average fuel content of 2.7%. By agreeing changes to the IMO’s Marpol Annex VI convention, international governments will limit this to 0.5% by 2020.
While the air quality should improve a little, T&E policy officer Bill Hemmings says the agreement must be seen in context. ‘This is a global agreement to reduce polluting emissions, and that is an achievement that must be acknowledged,’ he said. ‘Despite this, global shipping fuels will still be 500 times more polluting than road fuels. That’s not good enough for Europe with its bad air quality and dense population.’
Countries wanting stricter pollution controls will have one option available from 2015. If they set up a local Emission Control Area (ECA), they can insist on fuels used in the ECA having a maximum 0.1% sulphur. ‘Since the 0.5% limit is still a decade away,’ added Hemmings, ‘EU governments should seriously consider expanding ECAs in Europe – currently we have just two, in the North and Baltic seas.’
The modest progress on sulphur contrasts with no meaningful progress on nitrogen oxides and none at all on carbon dioxide.
On CO2, progress was thwarted as developing countries wanted reduced responsibilities, a demand which clashes with the IMO’s principle that all ships should be treated equally. Hemmings added: ‘The IMO has failed once again to seriously address greenhouse gas emissions from ships. It was given this task under the Kyoto protocol 10 years ago, but the last decade has been wasted with inaction. The EU must now take the lead on this issue.’